Symposium Question: What is the value of like-mindedness?

Time for another symposium question. Allow me to set this one up a little bit, with a kind of point/counterpoint:

1. It would seem that like-mindedness is quite valuable, since every sincere argument has as its goal agreement, and agreement is a form of like-mindedness. Also, a community that doesn’t agree about anything essential is really no community at all — and, since community is valuable, like-mindedness must also be. Even “agreeing to disagree” requires agreement, and such an agreement is a way to end a potentially hostile dispute. We know even at the individual level that to be of two minds about a subject is “disagreeable” and so we take strong steps to overcome such a situation. So like-mindedness is an obvious good, maybe one of the best of goods.

2. It would seem that like-mindedness is a real problem in human societies. For even if we grant that agreement about what is good is itself a good, much/most agreement is about something that is not necessarily good. Another problem is that like-mindedness is often achieved by silencing the voices of dissent through a process of exclusion. Plus, Rene Girard has shown that like-mindedness concerning the desirability of common objects leads to potentially violent antagonism or aggressive competition for that object. Finally, like-mindedness removes the diversity of opinion that makes thinking something new possible. So it is obvious that like-mindedness is, on the whole, of negative value.

Do you agree that this issue is important, both psychologically, intellectually and politically? So how would you respond to either or both of these points of view? Please respond in the comments section below.

“Metaphysical Desire in Girard and Plato”

That’s the title of a paper that I presented at the 2010 Colloquium on Violence and Religion at Notre Dame — a version of which was published in the journal Comparative and Continental Philosophy (Volume 2.2, 2010). Here is a link to the Notre Dame version, which I introduce in lieu of a substantive post: Metaphysical Desire in Girard and Plato.

I mention it so that I can segue from a detour into Peirce & Girard back to my (still Girardian) reading of Plato. Now that I have discussed the importance of mimetically-mediated shared attention in human meaning-making through a discussion of Peirce and Girard, I would like to now emphasize its importance in Plato through this paper, particularly the way philia/friendship works to shape such attention. I also want to gesture toward a way out of the violent foundations upon which most of human meaning-making is unfortunately and unintentionally based.

The issue of “positive mimesis” is a controversial one in Girardian circles. On the one hand, the pessimist/realist camp of Girardians tend to dismiss most talk of positive mimesis as forms of  mythological disguise manifesting a Pelagian avoidance of the hard truths of mimetic desire and scapegoating (and it can tilt that way in practice); on the other hand, the optimist/romantic camp observes correctly that Girard himself accepted that mimesis is not all bad, that there are (and must be) positive forms of it, as in the Imitatio Christi. I admit to a sympathy for both points of view and in developing my own (dialectical?) version of positive mimesis, I pray that I don’t overlook the true insights of the “realist” side, a side to which I belong by disposition (I am a Calvinist after all.) I guess my claim would be that while our cosmology/anthropology should be realist, our eschatology/ecclesiology had better not accept current reality as fated necessity. Human beings must live in a “tension of existence” between these two poles of realist acceptance and eschatological aspiration — see Soren Kierkegaard and Eric Voegelin as champions of this point of view.

Peirce and Girard and the semiotics of desire

There is a big ice storm in Georgia (where I am) and the power is out — so writing anything substantive is fairly difficult. So I can only hint for now at one of the themes of my projected paper, “Mimesis and the Mediation of Meaning,” beginning with a comparison of the central ideas of Rene Girard and Charles Sanders Peirce that I find so enticing.

Here is Rene Girard on mimetic desire: (more…)

What Girard missed in Plato

One of the pleasures of being a member in good standing of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion is that every so often I am sent a pile of books by Michigan State University Press by Girardian authors. Yesterday’s surprise included two new books by Rene Girard himself: When These Things Begin: Conversations with Michel Treguer and The One by Whom Scandal Comes. What a treat!

However, one of the chapters of the Conversations book has the title “Mimetic Desire: Shakespeare rather than Plato.” (You can picture my grimace if you’d like.) There are really only a few terse mentions of Plato in the chapter from which I will quote. Note that the book is an extended interview and “MT” is Michel Treguer and “RG” is Rene Girard: (more…)

The artistry of thinking

Sometimes our endeavors have the character of a purgatorial climb. We grope and grope toward some undefined end — head down, grunting and grabbing. It is good to pause and wonder toward what end we are working. In my own case, I can still only speculate. My latest hypothesis is that I am working toward a theory of thinking.

I recently attended a TEDx conference that my wife organized. One of the speakers was the artist Philip Morsberger, who gave a talk called “Some Thoughts on the Making of Art.” I thought the speech (and the event) was fantastic. Here is a quote from the speech: (more…)

“Mimesis and the Mediation of Meaning” paper proposal

I am at work on a paper that I hope to present at the 2014 meeting of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion, which meets in Freising, Germany in July. This will look like a departure from my Plato project, but it is really not. I am trying to develop a succinct (Girardian) theory of mimetic mediation in order to communicate more precisely in my book the communal nature of philosophy and the mediation of meaning that goes on there. Essentially, the theory will touch on the origin of both language and human culture — I didn’t want to tackle anything too big! Anyway, here is the abstract I submitted to the organizers:

Proposed title: Mimesis and the Mediation of Meaning

Abstract: My paper will attempt to exploit a parallel between Rene Girard’s analysis of triangular desire and Charles S. Peirce’s semiotic investigations into the triadic basis of significance. I will show how this linkage of mimesis to semiotics provides useful resources for the theorist of Girardian anthropology. The parallel is both striking and important for developing a properly three-dimensional account of human meaning-making. I will argue that mimesis is the primal adhesive that links sign, object and interpretant into a locus of significance. Desire and meaning-making are discovered to be two versions of the same phenomenon. The heart of my paper will be an analysis and generalization of bodily posture, emphasizing its strong role in the mimetic mediation of meaning. I will outline how Girard himself emphasized the importance of gestures, particularly the acquisitive and accusatory. I will extend the generalized notion of posture to include analogously what I am calling “neural postures.” The bodily, prelinguistic roots of meaning will be applied to thinking about the origins of mimetic culture. The paper will turn to the meaning-making present in the sacrificial phenomenon as a way to make sense of Girard’s contention that the sacrificial victim is a “transcendental signifier.” Finally, I will connect this with Jean-Luc Marion’s analysis of the idol/icon distinction and how these can be distinguished in terms of mimetically-mediated postures of significance.

René Girard 1985

An very good interview with Rene Girard from 1985. The actual interview is in English although the introductions are in Dutch. Thanks to the blog Mimetic Margins for making this available.

Mimetic Margins

In 1985, René Girard received his first honorary doctorate at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. More followed at various universities throughout the world. In December 2006, he was installed as a member immortel of the Académie Française, the highest honor a French intellectual can achieve in his home country.

A month after René Girard received his first honorary doctorate an interview with him appeared for Dutch television (IKON). The interview is in English with Dutch subtitles.


There is also footage from the ceremony for the honorary doctorate at VU Amsterdam.


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